Step Into Chaos

La Ceiba forces you outside of your comfort zone and makes you choose: you can go back and be safe, where research papers and professors define the struggle, or you can face some hard truths about yourself and the world.

This reality is full of chaos.

Chaos can be jarring and raucous at first, but out of chaos arises beauty, a natural occurrence of serendipity and depth in human interaction.

Something curious happens when you step into the chaos. You don’t have the benefit of your system, that system that taught us why our world is the way it is. That world doesn’t exist in the chaos. How do we behave in this space? How do we make sense of things we don’t understand?

It starts with humility.

To be humble is to be honest about what you are and to consider how we affect those around us. When we step into the chaos we don’t understand what is around us, at first, but we can understand what we are.

I am a male from Washington, DC. My mother is a Peruvian immigrant; my father is of Spanish decedents. I am a college graduate. I went to a private school for middle and high school. My family doesn’t have wealth or status, but they gave me everything I needed to be healthy and happy. It’s because I was given those opportunities that I have a degree of privilege that clients don’t.

To understand requires honest, sometimes uncomfortable, discussion about our circumstances.

  • It’s uncomfortable to ask why a grown woman, mother of three, never finished 2nd grade.
  • It’s uncomfortable to talk about my home feeling that the client wished she were there instead of Honduras.
  • It’s uncomfortable to feel the anger and frustration of clients emanating from their stifled goals.
  • It’s uncomfortable to communicate my mistake in assuming the client was something that she isn’t.

When I think about chaos I envision a dark room. I envision a person standing in the middle of this room and objects of all shapes and sizes whizzing by at random speeds and from every direction. I like to think that if you stood there long enough and stared into the space in front of you, eventually out of that randomness, patterns emerge. Eventually you see the same object more than once. Eventually those movements, those objects, and that room become familiar. Eventually you start to appreciate that chaos. Eventually you find beauty.

When I started my work in Honduras, I was a boss, a director, and a savior.

By the time I left, I became an equal.

I know this because I stopped receiving preferential treatment. When I did something to upset someone, I heard about it. That is the act of an equal.

Clients weren’t clients anymore, they were neighbors, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, feisty, shy, religious, indifferent, angry, generous, petty, honorable… they are complicated and whole individuals.

If my work were just about Microfinance, I would not be the person I am today and I would not have found meaning in my work. La Ceiba is more than microfinance. It’s about something else:


Creation by disruption with question

Struggle for meaning against fear, the tribe as my ally

Listen with empathy to understand


Let’s move away from the idea that we are here to help and that microfinance will eradicate poverty. Let’s define a new role. One where our purpose is to learn, listen, and take our cues from the people we serve.

We are here to get yelled at when needed, to receive hugs when needed, to be present through thick and thin, to understand each other, to love each other, to walk through the world together and stumble upon beauty in the midst of chaos.

Santiago Sueiro, co-Chair of La Ceiba MFI (
Get Social with Santi:

Two Santiagos

There are two Santiago’s. Santi the student and Santi the Program Director. They are on the same team yet, like all teammates, at times they are odds with one another.

Santi the student employs self-doubt. He was given the space to explore his insecurities and his fears, and to create something from nothing. He did it with the support of his teammates and guidance from his professor. In the end he learned to engage with his fear and use self-doubt.

Santi the program director is confident. If there was little structure in La Ceiba class there was even less in Honduras. No supervisor, no professor, no teammates, it was Santi, on his own, trying to figure out how to deliver loans to 40 clients. There was no time for self-doubt, and confidence wasn’t a choice, it was a requirement.

Santi the student faces an abstract consequence. The consequence of his conscience. He isn’t worried about disbursing loans on time. Santi the student is refining his moral compass, is thinking about what is right, about what he wants to stand for, and about what he wants to do, not now, but 15 years from now.

Santi the program director feels tangible consequences. He is where the clients are, available to them almost 24/7. If a loan fails, if the service is bad, if the product isn’t good, he hears it in person, face to face with no filter or buffer. And, if clients aren’t happy, if the Board isn’t happy, then his time with La Ceiba could end. He isn’t worried about next year; he needs to get through this year.

Santi the student is an idealist. He believes we should be wholly responsible for tackling injustices. He rejects historical precedents. He has a fresh take, a creative flare, and a habit for questioning authority. He wants to talk about the merits of loans, not the practical matters of loans. He wants to discuss the culture of credit, to challenge our assumptions and create new, more fair, products.

Santi the program director is an idealist too but he understands how hard the fight is. He’s seen first hand how capable clients are and believes they can do more to achieve their goals. He’s also seen how difficult poverty is. Clients should do more, we should do more, its complicated. He values the practical and pragmatic, the efficient and institutional. He wants to create checklists and procedures. He is good at getting from point A to point B. He doesn’t have time for new ideas; he’s busy making the machine to run on time.

Santi the student has a life. La Ceiba is a top priority but it’s not the priority. He has lots of friends, an active social life, he’s interested in other subjects, he loves sports, and he has a family who he loves. Sometimes he misses deadlines or forgets to respond to an email. “It’ll be there tomorrow,” he says.

Santi the program director is La Ceiba. He lives a block away from his office. He visits clients almost daily. He thinks about La Ceiba all day. La Ceiba is the top priority. It’s what he’s working on when no one is looking. Its what he works on when he turns down invitations to go out. It’s what he thinks about at night before going to bed. He never misses a deadline or forgets an email. “Lets set a time table for this,” he says.

Santi the student doesn’t take himself too seriously. He understands the world beyond La Ceiba. He knows that he’s in this for the long haul. He’s planning something big that takes time and space to take flight.

Santi the program director understands that this isn’t a game anymore. This is for keeps. The stakes are high and the challenges in our way don’t sleep or rest. If I don’t deliver, the consequences are real and I don’t get to party this weekend.

Both the student and the program director understand that sometimes its necessary for them to work together, sometimes the student has to lead, and sometimes the program director needs to take over. In the end they both have their role to play. Sometimes I need to be Santi the student and sometimes I need to be Santi the program director.

The same is true for the organization. At times we need the students to take over, at times we need the program director to take charge. The difficulty is in deciding when.


Santiago Sueiro, co-Chair of La Ceiba MFI (

Get Social with Santi:

More of my blog posts at: